I’m writing this on a Tuesday afternoon at Java Kimathi. I’m upstairs overlooking Kosewe’s. My ears are full to the brim with a cocktail of the hooting of cars and the chatter of people. In front of me are three women; corporate types in skirt suits and lanyards choking their necks. Their attire and the gizmos on their table suggest they are middle management and the talk and heavy makeup says they are late thirties to early forties.
“Lakini Sammy anakuanga mpole,” the one in a ponytail chimes. You can tell she’s the nice one in the group. She breaks a french fry in half and dips it in ketchup then sucks the sauce on her fingers after swallowing it.
“Sammy ni wale machali wapole, lakini wakora chini ya maji,” the one in a blazer adds. She has a cunning face. One of those women you can’t trust. You know the type that only calls during end month to tell you she got kicked out of her house and she’s back with her parents and could you find it in your heart to send her a light forty thousand bob, she will pay it immediately she’s back on her feet—when really she’s getting her nails filed at some spa. God forbid you fall hook, line and sinker for her half-baked story and it will be a bad debt written off.
She forks a big lettuce leaf and chews on it. “Machali wote wako na pesa ni wakora,” the one in a purple blouse with the cutest ribbon coughs, and they all break into a laugh, their lanyards swing from side to side like pendulums, as if protesting, saying, “They should have just left us in the office and saved us the locker room talk.”
The sun is up in the sky casting long fingers of gold towards my table, amplifying my light skin complexion. Since I started running I have noticed in delight that I have unlocked a new shade of yellow. Another run and I will edit my twitter bio to read, “No DM’s”. Two more and I will turn into Vera Sidika and disappear from the e-crib to Dubai.
Being lunch hour, the restaurant is packed, with very few empty seats.
“Do you mind if she sits with you?” A lithe waitress looks at me with soft eyes and a soothing tone escapes her lips.
I lift up my face to take in my tablemate-to-be. A short, youthful, shapely woman stares back at me. She’s in a maroon dress that hugs her curves like a second skin. On her neck sits an oval face—the mark of beautiful women. Her gaze is soft as well, as if to say, “I have a thing for light skin men.” Well isn’t this a match made in heaven? But not too fast because below her breasts is a protruding belly… but what is a little baby to a match made in heaven?
She sits across from me and the air thickens with awkward energy. Both of us want to bolt. I thumb my phone wondering if there are any empty seats at Kosewe’s. She thumbs hers with her tiny hands. She’s a small girl with a big phone so she looks like she’s holding onto a door for dear life. I want to laugh but I think about Sammy for a second and the laughter ebbs.
I lift up my gaze and our eyes meet. I hold her stare and she looks away. Yeah, now we know who wears the pants at this table. Just don’t give me her bill, haha. She has big, brown eyes that I want to get lost in and hope I never get found. And that jawline, I wouldn’t mind if it was preserved through my bloodline.
“Waiting for someone?” My words are a knife through the awkward tension.
The waiter comes to take her order.
“Give me water, I’m waiting for someone. I want us to eat together.” See, she’s a good person. Only good people wait so you could eat or watch a film together. There is an intimacy that comes with sharing a meal or watching a movie together for the first time. But the rest, the rest are treacherous and they act cavalier and say things like, “I don’t do this often,” or, “He’s nothing to worry about.” This lot won’t see heaven.
“Dumb question; is that baby yours or are you a surrogate?”
She makes a flurry of phone calls before my lips can part. And I wonder how she’s even able to lift up her phone. She talks in a corporate twang now, her voice honeyed, an updated version of what it was earlier. She utters a few law words before thumbing the end-call button and dropping the phone on the table. There is a small earthquake. I’m not sure but judging by the commotion, I think Kosewe’s felt it too. I think about the number of fish that have just jumped out of people’s plates and I grin.
“So, you’re a lawyer?”
“No,” she looks at me with those big brown eyes and I turn into liquid, “I’m a banker but I work with lawyers.”
“How is banking?”
Her water arrives. The waitress almost places it on her phone but she moves it before she does.
“It has its moments but it’s tough with this economy.”
“I would think its a flurry of activity, you know with the new notes and October around the corner?”
She becomes animated and starts going on and on about something I don’t understand. I’m just glad she’s passionate and she’s opening up like a blooming flower. If you rub shoulders with a woman and you end up talking more than her, that’s a failed interaction. You should always let her talk more and, as it happens, women in Nairobi are quite interesting.
The person she was waiting for arrives. He is a contrast of her in almost every way. While she looks bourgeoisie, like she was raised on cornflakes and freshly squeezed juice, he looks rough, tough as nails. Like he has had to fight for every meal he has had. The kind of man who has made a living with nothing but his hands.
“Nilijua tusipopatana leo, hatutawai patana.” She switches from Oxford English to Ken Walibora after they shake hands.
“Na umekua mrembo,” he says, beauty distracting him from my “Habari yako” courtesy as he sits on the empty chair on my right hand side.
She blushes and giggles. “Bibi na watoto, wako vipi?” It’s an attempt to tell him to focus or to tell me, “I don’t know him like that.” I go with the latter.
“Ni wazima. Hata bibi ni mja mzito tu kama wewe.”
“Ni kijana ama msichana?”
“Hata wangu ni kaboy.” She laughs, her face beaming with pride as if having a boy as opposed to a girl is a big accomplishment.
A table opens up and she leans towards me, “Nice meeting you. I wish we had more time to talk.”
“Nice meeting you too. We can talk after you’re done.”
“After I’m done I will come and say goodbye.”
I nod and open my laptop. When I lift up my shoulders the golden light that was kissing my skin is no longer there. Instead, it’s been replaced by white fluorescent light from the streets. The three corporate types left a while ago and on their table are a man and a woman. The man is in a simple, ash-grey shirt, black pants and brown shoes. The lady is in a flowery dress. She looks stiff, her movements robotic. You can always tell the direction the date is taking by looking at the body language of the lady. And this one is going straight to the dogs. I wonder for a second if the spirit of the table has consumed her. You know, the spirit of, “Machali wote ni wakora.”
I turn my neck. She’s still here—the woman with the big, brown eyes I want to get lost in. I get up and pack my laptop in my bag. I think for a moment of walking to her table and tapping her on the shoulder. Who knows, she could become my banker, heck, I could even be a stepdad and teach my newly minted son how to kick a ball and ride a bicycle. But instead of walking towards her I find myself putting one foot in front of the other towards the exit. Today was the day for beautiful conversations and the joy of being surrounded by warmth and laughter, not the day for Sammy, not the day for wakora.
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